December 2017 Parish letter
The preparations for Christmas are so all-encompassing that few of us really pay attention to the season of Advent. If Advent is known for anything, it’s usually for chocolate calendars that are devoid of any kind of spiritual preparation.
Advent is about the coming of Christ, but the focus is not really on the coming of baby Jesus in Bethlehem. It is looking ahead to the coming of Christ in judgement at the end of time, the ‘second coming’.
I know that I’m not very good at waiting, and I notice that I’m not the only one. As I watch the traffic in Church Street, and particularly the eastbound traffic approaching Spixworth Road at the end of the working day, I find myself watching so many drivers trying to squeeze a few inches closer to the T-junction that they clog the road for westbound traffic and pull out around the builders vans. They end up on the wrong side of the road causing a delay for everybody, themselves included. A modicum of patience would free up space, and everyone would get home more quickly!
We don’t like waiting, though. We often feel uneasy in a doctor’s waiting room, flicking through old magazines to keep our minds occupied and suppressing our thoughts about what will happen when our name flashes up on the screen. Maybe we rehearse how we will present the problem, as we wonder how much longer the doctor or nurse will be before we are summoned.
In Advent we remember Mary’s pregnancy, a time of uneasy waiting. In the days before ultrasounds, it would have been some months before the bulge was big enough to be confident, before she felt that confirmative kick, to know it really was a new life growing inside her. But her worries would have been far more complex in that in-between time. What did she make of the words of the angel during those months, and how would it affect her life with Joseph? How would this child be given the throne of his ancestor David? She had so many questions. But you can’t control pregnancy by your worrying. Mary had just to wait, to trust, to leave it to nature and the goodness of God.
For all the activity, the rushing of this life, Advent is a season to wait. It commands us to be passive. It calls us to trust in what we can’t see, recalling and leaning on God’s words as Mary did, choosing God’s promise rather than our self-doubt. We await Christ’s return living in an in-between time without knowing when the end will be. To wait is to surrender control. To wait is to trust in God.
So how do we wait for the end of all things? Most of the time we are too distracted to think about it, especially in the lead-up to Christmas. There is so much to do to sit still. There are too many distractions for any sort of soul-searching. If we knew this day was to be our last, maybe that would be different, but in the mean time …
Writing to the Christians in Rome, St Paul speaks of how we ‘groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we are saved.’ (Romans 8 23-25) He recognises the stress of waiting, the difficulty of not seeing or knowing what is to come. But hope is powerful, hope brings the riches of salvation, and hope brings patience. Knowing he was following God’s calling Paul was confident that God would be generous to him, but waiting wasn’t easy.
So what will our waiting in Advent be like? An impatient waiting, like an irritated driver? A distracted waiting, as in a surgery waiting room?
I would like an Advent of hopeful waiting, remembering that the one whom we await is Jesus who will bring restoration, justice and healing, and that it will be according to God’s timing and not ours.
I would like an Advent of waiting like Mary, in trust that God is at work in the silence and in the dark places, in ways we do not have control over. I would like to wait knowing that God is faithful to his promises and loves us beyond our imagining.
May yours be an Advent of patient, hopeful waiting, confident in the loving mercy of God.
Andrew Parsons, Vicar